The Incredible Anatomy of an Oyster Bar

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Oyster bars not only support an array of species, but they also work to clean the water and improve visibility.
Jason Temple

Gamefish are kind of like guys. Most pursue three basic things: comfort, food, and, once in a while, reproduction. Combine all three factors in one place and you’ll find a crowd.

Now think of oyster bars as a place where the crowds gather. Or better yet, think of an oyster bar as a meeting place for everything from shrimp, crabs and small fish looking for a hiding place, to fish like snook, trout, redfish and plaice in the hope of turning this safe zone into a snack bar.

The topography of an oyster bar has potholes, drop-offs, shallow areas, and spikes. In fact, the average oyster bar offers a litany of components that create feeding stations and ambush points for all inshore saltwater fish.

At high tide, a shallow sheet of water covers the bar just enough to allow shrimp, crabs, mullets and other small fish to seek refuge atop the pointed shells. As the water falls, these crustaceans and baitfish must push into deeper waters, inviting instant Armageddon.

Oyster bass fishing is relevant to the tides. When the water falls, target the edges and drop-offs where game birds are posting, looking to ambush their prey. Jigs, spoons, and shallow plugs bank on their reputation for mimicking this food chain.

Set up on the edges or downstream side of the structure to work those baits with the tide. Pike, trout and flounder generally feed along drop-offs and shell points, while redfish work completely around the structure, even on the upstream side, as they seek food away from exposed oysters .

Currents passing past the bars push sand and mud to either end of the structure, creating shallow spots. Cast a surface plug or bait towards the tips, or swim a soft plastic shad type with the current.

As the tide rises and reaches the bar, cast a surface plug or an unweighted, weedless soft plastic jig, jerkbait or swimbait directly on top of the structure.

Expect extreme tides typically experienced around full and new moons to exacerbate these fishing scenarios. Higher tides mean more water piles at the top of the bar, allowing predators to feed at will on the oysters. Extreme tides also increase the current flowing over and around the oyster bar, so expect gamefish to use the edges for an ambush.

Oyster bars not only support a range of food and fish, but they also work to clean the water and improve visibility. So while anglers view them as feeding stations, their primary ecological purpose is to maintain water quality and provide a starting point for the next generation of molluscs to perpetuate the species and develop the habitat.

Oysters on a table
Both Yamaha and Toadfish work on oyster restoration projects.
Thy Le / shutterstock.com

Oyster Renaissance

Did you know that a single oyster can filter up to 50 liters of water per day? Think 95 2-litre soda bottles and a single oyster drinking it all. This makes an oyster bar an essential component of our coastal estuaries.

Unfortunately, in almost all estuaries, oysters are in decline, either due to overexploitation or poor water conditions. Cue Yamaha Rightwaters and Charleston-based Toadfish, makers of environmentally friendly fishing products.

Yamaha supports efforts such as the Billion Oyster Project in New York (which replants oysters in the Hudson River) as well as a citizen oyster seeding initiative in Texas. Toadfish donates a portion of every purchase to an oyster restoration fund.

These projects are creating new reefs and improving damaged ones using oyster shells salvaged from local restaurants and other sources. Volunteers collect and pack the shells and place them strategically where the oysters are in decline. The shells attract oyster larvae floating in the water and eventually form living reefs.

Over 200,000 square feet of oyster reef has already been rebuilt through Toadfish’s program alone. Here are a few million more.

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